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IP Week 2020: Climate change and access to energy - where are we on the journey to 2030


IP Week 2020 Welcome Speech - Steve Holliday FREng FEI, Energy Institute President

Ladies & Gentlemen…the Energy Institute (and its forerunner the Institute of Petroleum, after which this conference was originally named) has been a companion on the journey this industry has taken for more than a century.

And boy what an incredible journey.

Some of you will know I most recently spent a decade running National Grid, responsible for the electricity and gas networks  in the UK and in the north eastern United States.

What perhaps fewer people know is that I started my career four decades ago as an engineer in downstream oil and gas, and ran what is now the UK’s largest refinery at Fawley on the South Coast.

And I remain proud of what that industry has done and continues to do.

As the film just mentioned, it’s been in large part responsible for building and powering the global economy as we know it today. And it continues to meet more than half of our global energy needs.

And it’s thanks to extraordinary and ambitious achievement by scientists, engineers and other professionals in some of the most hostile environments that we’re able to enjoy these benefits.

Ladies & Gentlemen, in days gone by, this industry could have been forgiven for resting on these laurels.

But how disastrous it would be if it were to do so now – for the planet – for humanity - and for its own relevance and survival.

Because the great irony of where we are today is that the very fuels that have provided this great foundation for human progress, are largely responsible for the emergency in which we now find ourselves.

Climate emergency

Let’s be clear - the science is now beyond any and all reasonable doubt. We have the Energy Institute’s former President Prof Jim Skea and his colleagues on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to thank for that.

The real world impacts are more obvious by the day. Greenland’s melting ice sheet, hurricane Dorian’s destructive force in the Bahamas and the tragic bushfires across Australia. Just two weeks ago the Antarctic recorded 20C for the first time ever.

And the necessary response is also clear. We must remove greenhouse gasses from our energy system as quickly as possible.

Global energy related emissions may have flat-lined last year . But the challenge remains enormous - to underpin the global economy with a radically transformed energy system.

That’s what the Paris Agreement is all about. It’s what COP26 in Glasgow in November will be all about – how ambitiously we can constrain carbon to contain the threat..

On top of this, what’s also changed, quite dramatically and I think permanently, is how the public around the world see the problem.

Mainstream and disruptive voices have forced the urgency of the challenge up the agenda.

As befits the problem, we now routinely speak the language of crisis and emergency.

Universal access

But there’s another challenge.

Because it’s not just the amount of energy we use today that needs to be cleaner, it’s also the growth in energy we foresee coming tomorrow - a 25% increase by 2040 according to IEA estimates.

…increases in demand that will bring improvements in quality of life for billions in low and middle income countries.

Since the UN set the Sustainable Development Goals twenty years ago, global access to electricity has been steadily progressing - up from 79% in 2000 to 89%.

Similarly, global access to clean cooking fuels is up from 51% in 2000 to 61%.

But that’s cold comfort to the 800 million people still without electricity. And the 3 billion who still rely on dirty, inefficient and polluting cooking fuels including wood, coal, charcoal and animal waste.

It’s estimated around 4 million people die prematurely every year as a result, most of them women and children.

Ladies and Gentlemen, protecting our planet and at the same time reducing the imbalances across societies is the great challenge of our age, and in particular for the industry gathered here today.

Put simply, we need more, cleaner, energy - and fast.

2030 / next decade

Ladies and Gentlemen, when I hear all the talk of 2050, I have to say I worry.

Not because I disagree with ambitious targets. I think almost 80 countries have now committed to net zero by the middle of the century.  Great.

But I worry because 2050 is dangerously far off – and it tempts us into a mistaken belief that we can put off action until later.

In fact, I believe this next decade is the key.

Decisions and actions made in the next ten years will determine success or failure.

And – to put it even more starkly for us here in this room – I think this sector has that decade to prove itself.

There’s a widespread – and to my mind misguided – view that the oil and gas sector can only ever be the problem.

It’s wrong because, as I said earlier, the sector is capable of incredible things.

Over this coming decade, as the impacts of climate change bite harder and the calls for action grow louder, the credibility  of this sector will be tested.

To pass that test, the industry needs to show demonstrable, rapid change, now.

…in how it engages with the debate yes, but – most of all – in what it does and the products it sells.

We can put nothing in the long term box. We cannot prevaricate or keep the pause or slow motion button pressed any more.

And it’s hard to think of a more obvious place for this sector to start than fugitive methane emissions in its production and transportation facilities.

I’m pleased to say a large body of operators and supporting organisations like the EI  are working harder to overcome the technical issues and to raise awareness.

The industry must bear down on this most potent of greenhouse gas emissions.

But also downstream, at the point of combustion, I can’t think of a body of professionals better place to develop, drive and deliver carbon capture and storage technology at the scale required.

Government and society have equally important roles to play, of course.

But scrutiny and expectation are weighing heavily on the energy sector and we need to progress, in earnest, now.

I’m an engineer and a strong believer in human ingenuity and our ability to solve big challenges through technology.

This is a tremendous industry, it changed the world before, and I believe it can do so again.

The EI/IP Week 2020

Tackling these challenges also chimes with the ambition at the heart of the Energy Institute’s social purpose - that energy should be better understood, managed and valued.

Energy professionals - our members - of all ages, genders, backgrounds and disciplines look to us for the knowledge, skills and good practice they need to pursue impactful careers in this vital, fast-evolving field.

I started by saying the Energy Institute is a long term companion of the oil and gas sector.

We are also increasingly a companion of the wind industry’s journey…that of the energy management profession…in storage…solar…and soon hydrogen, CCUS and integrated networks.

Wherever the energy workforce goes, we aim to be there providing the essentials needed to protect people, assets and the environment, and to get the most efficient use out of all energy consumed.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the coming decades will undoubtedly be bumpy but it will serve no one if the oil and gas sector is not open to scrutiny, to honest debate and to change.

That’s why I’m delighted that at this year’s IP Week our discussions will bridge the industry and the outside world, as we welcome external voices to open our conference and frame our discussions.

This morning we have the non-profit view from the Climate Group, the academic view from the Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics, the government view from the UK’s special representative for climate change, and the investor perspective from Climate 100+ –all in discussion with industry leaders.

But first I’d like to invite to the platform someone who really needs no introduction.

Ladies and Gentlemen, a great friend and Honorary Fellow of the Energy Institute, the International Energy Agency’s long-standing and much-respected Executive Director, Dr Fatih Birol HonFEI…